Iconic car brands that absolutely don’t need to reinvent themselves always go through a difficult time when a new generation model is due to be developed.

The Range Rover is a classic example. It has taken more than four decades for just the fourth generation of the model to be launched and in terms of intrinsic abilities for which the brand is legendary, all of them probably would be good enough to handle the rough and tumble of the great outdoors.

So, progress has to be measured in small increments of improvement over the previous generation and in terms of just how much better its best can be.

The latest example of that from the Land Rover family is the new Range Rover, model year 2013. It is a bit wider, and longer. It is sprung a couple of centimetres taller from the ground and is now capable of wading through deeper waters. So, obviously you can explore more off the beaten track (not that the previous gen models were yet to be spotted on certain continents).

But, in keeping with the times even the most iconic vehicles need to change as a mark of progress and that is what the new Range Rover has also been put through. Changes to its design and interiors will make it more appealing to the new aesthete.

Subtle changes

The new Range Rover is all new under the skin and over its chassis. But the changes on the outside have been made with caution so that its instantly recognisable form continues to be so. In fact, some of the design elements like the side vent fins have been retained even though they don’t have a function now and are just a cosmetic add on in the fourth generation.

Amongst the other features that have been carried forward because they are a classic Range Rover trait is the split tail-gate. Only, in keeping with current day tastes and expectations, both of them are powered gates that fold and lock at the push of a button.

The lineage of every Range Rover is best observed when it is seen from the side. Starting from the first generation of 1970, all of them have effectively started out as three parallel lines on the drawing board representing the roofline, waistline and baseline. All of them have had a longer rear overhang with a slightly tapered rear and a purposeful departure angle.

The design tradition continues in the fourth generation, with the only minor modification being the slightly lowered roof that also marginally tapers down at the rear. Blacked out A, B and C pillars also mean that the floating roof design tradition continues too. Incidentally, the roof also features the largest panoramic sunroof glass in a sports utility vehicle.

The overall dimensions of the new Range Rover haven’t been changed very much; after all it already was a hulk. But, it is about 3 cms longer and a bit wider. But the bigger numbers start flowing when you look under the skin.

Thanks to the experience and insight gleaned by group company Jaguar in the use of aluminium for its cars, Range Rover has cracked it by developing the first all-aluminium monocoque chassis for the new Range Rover. Aluminium is 39 per cent lighter than steel and that enabled a weight savings of about 420 kgs in the new Range Rover. It is actually said to be 23 kgs lighter than the BMW 3 Series and about 85 kgs lighter than the Audi Q5. Front and rear suspensions are attached to all-aluminium sub-frames.

The new Range Rover’s exterior design elements such as the headlamps and tail-lamps borrow a bit of the Evoque’s design cues. But the purity of the Range Rover flagship’s design is still maintained by keeping the changes within the limits of the brand’s classic traits. It also gets a dose of modernism with LED lights and auto door close mechanism. The classic clam-shell bonnet continues, only now it hides a neat trick that has enabled the new Range Rover to get into almost waist-deep water.

Plusher cabin

Just like the exterior, the interior too is recognisable as a Range Rover. The classy theme of intersecting horizontal and vertical elements that we saw in the previous generation has been carried forward with subtle changes. The steering wheel feels great to hold and has a new layout for switches. Over the entire dashboard layout the number of switches has been halved without affecting intuitiveness and usability.

To infuse the cabin with modernity and bring in even more luxury, additions such as the new touchscreen, a digital instrument cluster and a 27-speaker Meridian audio system have been added. Seats are super comfy and made of soft, perforated leather from low carbon-footprint sources. The interior of the new Range Rover feels much more luxurious and is offered an even bigger range of bespoke options to choose from. Rear legroom is said to be about 118mm more and the classic command driving position of the brand is still right there to be experienced.

Up the Atlas

To get a feel of the new Range Rover, I travelled with a bunch of – ‘new market’ media – journalists from India and Korea to Morocco. The plan was to drive from Essaouira to Marrakech and over varied terrain ranging from beach sand dunes, single-laned hilly sections and high speed expressways.

And its true breadth of capabilities became even more apparent the next day when we drove the new Range Rover up into the Atlas mountains (where the movie Laurence of Arabia was shot). Along the way up we drove upstream and forded a river in full flow and picked our way over some really rocky terrain. The icing on the cake was a drive around the ravaged, rocky, dry moat of an old fort just outside Marrakech. Even as my mind begged to differ, the new Range Rover managed to find its footing on the narrow gaps in between the moat’s walls and rocky outcroppings. Yes, there was assistance at hand, much as you would seek the help of a co-passenger if you were to be faced with the need to cross difficult terrain. But, the moat and the river were both dynamic enough situations to truly test the new Range Rover.

The brand’s off-roading abilities are the stuff of legend. But, boosting the new Range Rover’s skills is the new Terrain Response 2 system, the second gen of this acclaimed tech. Physically, the new model gets a bit more ground clearance, can be electrically raised by bit and can manage about 200mm more of wading depth thanks to the air intake system being repositioned at the top of the front wings and under the bonnet.

The new Terrain Response 2 system is governed by an Integrated Suspension Control Module (ISCM) and is controlled via the rotary switch in the centre console. While the driver has the option of choosing the operating mode based on his assessment of the driving condition, just pressing the top of the rotary control puts it into Auto mode, where the system automatically detects the type of terrain that the vehicle is being driven through and immediately alters performance abilities and traction availability to suit the current conditions.

It is tough to pick holes in the Range Rover’s off-roading prowess, since it is meant to go over all of them.

Performance

The new Range Rover’s engine line up features lighter, smaller and yet powerful petrol and diesel engines. The vehicle’s performance has benefited immensely from the weight savings, so much so that the new, efficient 3.0-litre TDV6 diesel engine manages to the match the outgoing TDV8 model in performance. The engine delivers 258PS of peak power and a peak torque of 600Nm. But, paired with the new ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox and if assisted by the Stop/Start, the powertrain manages to lower CO2 emissions by 22 per cent to 196g per km.

The other diesel engine option is the 339PS 4.4-litre SDV8 ‘super diesel’ engine that is said to have been exclusively designed for the Range Rover. The engine has got a 9 per cent boost in power and manages the 0 to 100 kmph sprint in 6.9 seconds. Peak torque available is 700Nm.

The petrol engine that I got to drive during the trip to Morocco was the 5.0-litre LR V8 that generates a peak power of 375PS and a peak torque of 510 Nm. These engines are also paired with the 8-speed ZF auto gearbox. The top of the line is the supercharged version of the same V8 petrol engine, which generates a peak power of 510 PS and about 625Nm of peak torque. This engine manages to get the new Range Rover to cross the 0 to 100 kmph mark within 5.4 seconds.

Bottomline

The new Range Rover is more luxurious and more refined, features a much quieter cabin and manages to coast over bigger hurdles and ford through deeper waters. It also proves it strength on straight tarmac, managing to easily haul its bulk to over 220 kmph before any sign of stress shows up.

The new fourth-gen Range Rover has bettered the benchmark it has set for itself. And that is going to make it tougher for competitors including the ones to come like what could come off the Bentley EXP 9F concept.

In addition to its improved ‘off-road’ cred, the new Range Rover also manages to combine a much plusher cabin and even better environmental efficiencies.

Just launched in India earlier this month, the new Range Rover is available in three trim levels and prices start at Rs 1.72 crore. That is certainly not cheap, but if you are looking to buy a full-sized, super luxury sport utility vehicle, you might as well buy the original.

muralidhar.s@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on December 11, 2012)
XThese are links to The Hindu Business Line suggested by Outbrain, which may or may not be relevant to the other content on this page. You can read Outbrain's privacy and cookie policy here.